HARD SOAP, HARD SOAP (1977)

One of the true joys of vintage hardcore is that the films are generally better time capsules than most any piece of entertainment from the period save and except daytime talk and game shows. A lot of times, the films made within the adult industry were written, produced, and released within mere weeks meaning that each film is generally rife with some kind of hook that is specific to the era. If one was impressed that Doug Liman’s Swingers was able to be written, produced, and released all within the tiny window that swing dancing and ball-busting hep cat jump bands found an inexplicably popular resurgence in popularity in 1997, know that about ten fuck films with swing band angles could have been churned out in the mighty days of the Golden Age of Porn.

A case in point would be Bob Chinn’s Hard Soap, Hard Soap from 1977 which might seem like an unwieldy title for a sex picture to those modern viewers not familiar with Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Norman Lear’s nighttime send-up of daytime soap operas that ran from 1976 until 1977. In fact; it’s kind of unclear just how much of a soap opera Hard Soap, Hard Soap resembles these days given that art form’s gentle slide into near extinction. But it really doesn’t make much difference since Hard Soap, Hard Soap is legitimately uproarious and stands as one of Bob Chinn’s best films.

From The Great American Soap Opera Company and Damon Christian’s (Dick Aldrich) Freeway Films (the former resurrected for 1983’s Eat at the Blue Fox, directed by Aldrich); Hard Soap, Hard Soap was initially sourced from an idea by Chinn’s then-girlfriend Deanna and scripted by John Chapman; later to pen the screenplays for Chinn’s Lipps & McCain and Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls. And despite its lighthearted approach and subject manner; Hard Soap, Hard Soap is a pretty heavily plotted affair. Penny (Laurien Dominique) is married to Dr. John Holmes (John Holmes… but, ya know, with a post-residency medical license) and is experiencing a bit of depression due to his recent bout with flaccidity which he attributes to the stress he experiences as an in-demand psychiatrist. Confiding in her neighbor and best buddy, the horny, bed-hopping Linda Lou (Candida Royalle), the two get into multiple Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz scenarios while searching for the reason behind the good doctor’s dysfunction.

With the sense of whimsical surprise and anything-goes adventure; Hard Soap, Hard Soap adopts a refreshing and unashamed “if it feels good, do it” attitude (which, not coincidentally, was the unofficial slogan of 1977). Additionally, it has a lot of faith in its material and focuses as much on the comedy than it does the sex. The explicit scenes are generally played for laughs and cleverly so, saving the film’s sans-gag sex scene for the very end. An unexpected third act twist shows Patty (Joan Devlon) and her trans girlfriend, Glenda (Sabrina), trying to surreptitiously score some dick is likewise a riot, building to one of the movie’s biggest laughs that occurs simply by John Holmes walking through the front door with perfect timing. Though a dissolve kills a promising group sex scene in favor of a final encounter with Holmes and Dominique, Chinn adheres to the boundaries of the story and refuses to play the audience cheap.

Laurien Dominique’s proto-Drew Barrymore charm is on full blast here and she is perfectly cast in the lead. In the salty neighbor/best friend role (and even once in Rhoda Morgenstern garb), Candida Royalle runs away with every scene in which she appears. Her dominating presence and keen comic timing is absolutely perfect for the material (her scene with Jon Martin is a corker). Hard Soap, Hard Soap shows why; despite the limited number of titles in which she appeared; she was one of the absolute bests to ever do it. No doubt aided by their real-life friendship, Royalle and Dominique have a true chemistry (watch how they crack each other up in a threesome with Ken Scudder) and their real relationship lends the film a great deal of heart. John Holmes, also snagging an AD credit (which was not unusual for Holmes on a Chinn production), gives a really great comic performance and shows just how good an acting talent he could be with the right material.

Hard Soap, Hard Soap also boasts a vibrant style that runs from the gorgeous lighting in the bedroom and waiting room scenes to smart usage of the phony, wide-open sets meant to ape its daytime television counterparts. A conversation about the merits of laundry detergent between Penny and Linda Lou’s automat pickup (Blair Harris) is almost directly out of the direct-to-consumer pitches that occurred during televised breaks before commercials became independently created. And while the explicit aim of the film is to send up soap operas, the wood panelling and rough-fabric sofas in Holmes’s office along with the quick exterior dissolves to interior resembles something out of The Bob Newhart Show.

Along with its recreative tone, there is a lot of sly humor on display in the film. In a well-executed sequence, a People magazine with Louise Lasser as Mary Hartman on the cover is used as a clever in-gag; the throwaway aside that Dr. John Holmes “is very religious” is pretty droll on its face; and lines such as “If he shits, I’m leaving,” “It’s 20/20 or the cane,” “A real meat shop,” and especially “Being married and gay, I can relate rather well to your cock suckers, buggerers, and scumbag mother fuckers” are some of the best pieces of dialogue this side of a John Waters movie. And, finally, there is such a sweetness to Hard Soap, Hard Soap that even when things take a violent turn when Paul Thomas (who else?) turns up as a janitor with a chip on his shoulder; the film’s parodic vibe helps it feel far less creepy than it otherwise might have.

Bob Chinn’s handle on the material in Hard Soap, Hard Soap combined with the effortlessly fun and spirited performances and deftness of tone makes this a winner. And that holds true even if the specificity of its subject matter is now lost to the sands of time and the viewer of the future thinks that As the World Turns and Guiding Light were the titles of a couple of church hymnals.

(C) Copyright 2022, Patrick Crain

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